With my wife a long time snowboarder and me being a long time skier, it only seemed obvious that by the time our third daughter was born we were going to be a skiing family. I also knew that no matter how advanced my wife and I were, there was no way that either of us would be capable of teaching our daughters how to ski or snowboard. Make adjustments to their form as they grew, maybe, but teaching them from scratch required the work of a professional.
For most, the prevailing attitude is, more than likely, I’m an advanced skier, I’ll teach them myself. But in actuality, knowing how to ski and snowboard is one thing, teaching young kids how to do it is another.
Teaching your own children, or any loved one, to ski and snowboard is a terrible idea. The end result, a major detriment to the overall fun that a mountain vacation should be. Ski lessons are available for a reason and provide lots of benefits for all who are involved. Any parent knows that kids listen far better to someone other than yourself, but in this case, that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Ski school offers a safe learning environment with group support for newcomers of all ages and levels, so even if you have an adult relative who has joined the trip with you, there’s something for them too.
“What’s great about learning to ski and ride as a family is you can do it the rest of your life together, says Rober Gallo, director of ski school at Mount Peter. When football, baseball, softball, soccer and all the team sports go away, you can always ski and ride together as a family.”
January is learn to ski and snowboard month, and there is no better time than now to take lessons together as a family. Doing so will yield many many years of great family fun in a way that teaching them yourself never could. That said, here are three key reasons why lessons make skiing and snowboarding enjoyable for everyone involved – not just the person taking the lesson.
1. Lessons Offer a Safe and Fun Learning Environment
“The goals of the day should be to have as much fun as possible and to have everyone finish the day as healthy as they start the day. If you constantly circle back to make sure that you’re meeting these two goals, you’re setting yourself up to have a great ski vacation, says Brian Donovan, director of ski school at Mount Snow.
Enrolling your children in ski or snowboard lessons is the first step to ensuring that you continue to meet these goals. If you grew up learning to ski or ride in ski school, you know it’s like a big on-mountain play date. Ski school is not just about the lessons. Yummy food, hot chocolate and friends all help make this an experience that children will want to come back to.
An atmosphere like this is crucial and one that my daughters have enjoyed at Mount Snow in recent years where they have regularly been enrolled in their Mountain Camp program. Parents can enjoy some runs on their own while their children are at camp and are, most importantly, safe. But it is not enough that these two goals are met just during lessons. They must then be transitioned to the slopes after pickup.
Donovan elaborates, “The biggest takeaway I can stress in this situation is that at the end of the lessons, the parents debrief with the instructor(s) and find out what skills, and more importantly, what trails are recommended for the kids to continue practicing on. Nothing derails the progress made during a lesson quicker than a parent that challenges their kid with tasks or terrain that are too demanding or difficult for the child’s current skill set.”
Whether or not you can maintain these core values on your own time can make or break your ski vacation. This was something that was abundantly clear in my recent visit to Mount Peter. There, they have two learning areas, one for those who have never been on skis before and another, adjacent to the original, for those who have but are still not comfortable going up the lift yet.
“This allows people to progress accordingly, stresses Gallo, rather than just jump right on the lift after their first lesson when they are not ready to.”
As much as you want your kids to rip down black diamonds with you, it is imperative that you just keep revisiting the two original goals: fun and safety.
2. When You Take Lessons, You Can Be a Better Coach
Often overlooked in the learning process is how parents and children can both benefit from taking lessons. As an adult, continuing to learn is useful to better yourself as a skier or snowboarder, and also allows you to better coach or cheer on your children who are learning. Having taken at least one ski lesson in each of the last four years I have found the information invaluable for both myself and my girls. This is particularly true of my most recent lesson last month at Mount Peter where my instructor (arguably one of the best I’ve had) expertly fine tuned my form. Impressed as I was, I spent the remainder of the day practicing his cues on my own while skiing with my daughters and offering insight to them based on my own lesson.
Expounding on this, Mount Snow’s Donovan states, “Taking lessons can help parents increase their overall knowledge of skiing beyond simply shouting, “pizza” and “french fry” at their child. Instead, parents can learn how to encourage steering movements and turning mechanisms so their kids can control speed, and the parents can help encourage their children to break away from getting stuck using a braking wedge to fight both speed and terrain.”
Justin Cooper, Marketing and Sales Manager at Mount Peter supports this by saying, “This is a two way street, when parents and children take lessons separately they learn in different ways, when they come back together after their lessons they can discuss what they have all learned. The children may have learned how to “pizza” and “french fry” while the parents may have learned wedges and parallel skiing. This allows for a family conversation that both parents and kids can understand and later practice.”
Having a better understanding of the mechanics of skiing or snowboarding can help parents manage the progressions of their children’s development. This will ultimately create a partnership and therefore a better overall experience for the entire family that adheres to the two aforementioned primary goals.
3. Experience the Mountain as a Group
Revisiting the original plan when you had kids, you knew that you all would eventually experience the mountain together some day as a group. That is truly the best part of the process and one that I revel in each time my family and I ski and snowboard together.
Donovan states, “It’s important to slowly increase the difficulty of the terrain that you’re exploring with techniques that you’re comfortable with or ramp up the difficulty of the technique that you’re attempting on familiar terrain, but never both at the same time.”
Having everyone in the family understand this is essential to your success and fun that your family will have on the slopes together. Taking lessons with qualified professionals will help reduce the learning curve and have you out enjoying your family mountain experience faster.
Stick to the Plan and Grow Together for Optimal Fun
A ski and snowboard vacation can and should be one of the best vacations you and your family takes. Skiing and snowboarding is an excellent way for you all to stay active together outdoors during the winter months. The memories forged together while exploring the mountain will almost certainly last a lifetime.
As a family, have conversations and determine what your goals are. Come up with a carefully curated list then execute the plan. Grow together through group or private lessons. In the end you will stay safer, have more fun together and thoroughly enjoy your family vacation to its fullest.
Special thanks to Brian Donovan and Jamie Storrs at Mount Snow and Rebecca Sampson-Kullberg, Justin Cooper and Robert Gallo at Mount Peter Ski Area for providing the lessons and the information necessary to write this piece.